Food for Thought: Misconceptions about Food Bloggers and about Seoul Eats

There seems to be some misunderstanding about what I do and I these days, I’ve been getting quite a few e-mails attacking my integrity. I think I know how it got started. About a month ago I wrote an article in the Korea Herald entitled, “How NOT to Globalize Korean Food.” The article got quite a few responses. The article got picked up by Daum (a Korean Internet Portal), Korean Beacon, Zenkimchi, Brian in Jeollanamdo,  and numerous other sites. Some people agreed with me, others did not.

One response I particularly thought was right on was posted on the Korean Beacon. Ken Brockman wrote:

  1. Kent Brockman Says:
    Here are my two cents.
    The South Korean government has a seriously flawed solution to popularizing Korean cuisine to foreigners, specifically to non-Korean Americans. If the ROK government believes that THE solution is by changing the Romanization so it is closer to the Korean pronunciation of specific dishes, then all you are left with is a still relatively unpopular cuisine with a different English spelling.

    The ROK government continues to face the test of the American palate without doing its homework. Korean cuisine is very salty and spice-heavy, which the majority of the American palate is unable to handle. The ingredients are unusual. Fermented soybeans is not a commonly consumed ingredient in America. Neither is ginseng, seaweed, lotus roots, and jeotgal. If the ROK wants Korean food to become popular, then it needs to fit the dish for the audience, which is not Korean. The ROK is forcing its dishes down foreign throats and simply cannot solve the obvious problem. Why is Chinese food popular? Because of authenticity? Ha! “Chinese” food fits the American palate. Do Chinese care? I tried asking one once, but he was too busy counting the cash register. Even soulless corporations like McDonald’s created the bulgogi burger and kimchi burger.

    Does the Olive Garden make authentic Italian food? Is Chipotle authentic Mexican? You tell me. Authenticity rarely leads to popularity among the masses.

Ken, I totally agree with you.

One person that didn’t didn’t agree with me was Andrew Salmon. Mainly, he had issue with the video that I shot to prove my point.  He responded to my article in a post on ZenKimchi.com.  

First of all, Andrew Salmon wrote:

I’ll state my colours at the outset.
I am not involved, in any paid capacity, in official communications for any Korean government body, so I have no financial vested interest in this issue other than an affection for the bevvie under discussion. I am a journalist contributing an article on something of national interest. If the article has started a debate, so much the better. Perhaps I should mention that I do, however, have a background in international PR (three years with Burson-Marsteller) so can speak on marketing with at least a modicum of authority.

Mr. Salmon’s statements here seems to be a common misunderstanding about what I do. I am not a paid representative for Korea. I work for a company that does consulting for different organizations. We make suggestions about how these organizations should market to different cultures or how they should approach issues such as globalization. It doesn’t mean they follow our suggestions, nor are we the PR representatives for those companies. My company and I are not spokespeople for the Korean government nor for makgeolli companies.

And if I was a spokesperson for the a company or organization, I would tell you.

The opinions expressed in the article are my own. I believe that Korea needs to go out and take the food and the culture to other parts of the world. It’s time for action. It’s not time to deliberate the spelling of the drink or food.These are opinions that I have expressed many times on my blog.

Anyway, the article set off a firestorm of criticism where people have said that I am a tool of the government. This led to other e-mails accusing me of using my blog to mislead people by writing favorable reviews of restaurants for money. HA! I’m flattered that people think I have so much power. They also believe that there are heaps loads of free food and perks in my job. Sadly, I must tell you, this is not the case. If I am invited to a restaurant, I disclose the information. As for advertising, well… the reason restaurants have asked to advertise on my site is because I had already written favorable things about them.

My blog is, and continues to be, a hobby. I have a day job like everyone else and I have to save money, pay bills, and feed Hubble. Originally this blog started out as a link dump and container for ideas. I used to just jot down things I didn’t want to forget. In a way, this blog is just a long reminder to myself and restaurants can’t pay me enough to lie to myself.

I am not a journalist, but I am learning how to become one. I’ve made mistakes on blogging etiquette in the past and I’ve worked hard to not make them again. Everyday I am improving. If I do make a mistake and it’s brought to my attention, I will fix my error and I try not to do it again. The Internet is a new medium and everyone is learning the rules as we go along.

I am aware that restaurants are businesses and bad publicity can hurt them. I’m not out there to hurt businesses; I’ve worked in restaurants and I love the people who work in them. As long as a restaurant is honest and fair to customers, I will support them. If I feel a restaurant is treating a customer unfairly or if they are trying to cheat customers; then I feel it is my responsibility to tell others. Please keep in mind that customers should be fair and respectful to the establishments they enter as well. Just because customers pay money, it doesn’t mean that they can have or do anything they want. After all, a customer has been invited to a person’s house.

One of the people that really helped me learn about blogging is Zen Kimchi. He is the person who inspired me to start writing about food and he has been a constant resource on the ethics of blogging and also the technical aspects of it.

Recently, I’ve noticed that there are number of food blogs that have popped up and they are taking a very harsh stance towards restaurants and other establishments. I feel that many of these critics think it is fun to tear an establishment down simply because it doesn’t meet their standards of how the food is in their own native country. Let’s face it; we are in another country. The Chinese food in Korea tastes differently from America and it tastes differently from China or South Africa. The food should be put into context. The culture and the local tastes should be considered. When criticizing a restaurant, we should be objective and consider the restaurant owners and other customers. Personal opinions are important, but they should be balanced with consideration for chefs and restaurants. Sometimes restaurants have bad days and we should be willing to change our opinions. Critiques should be given to restaurants as advice on how to improve their establishments, not destroy them.

Just yesterday, someone asked me why I stopped being so harsh and critical about restaurants. Well-since I write about food-people recommend good places. It’s generally the topic that people would like to talk to me about, so I have a list of places to go to. As for bad places, I have just tried to stop writing about them.  I just don’t like the negative energy it brings to my website. I figure the bad restaurants will go out of business on their own and they don’t need my help to do so. However, I usually try to offer them advice on how they can fix things, because I want all restaurants to do well.

I feel that we all need to be more responsible for what we write, because there are people reading it.

This is why I have decided to take the Blogging with Integrity Pledge and invite other bloggers to do the same.

BLOG with INTEGRITY
By displaying the Blog with Integrity badge or signing the pledge, I assert that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is important to me.
I treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people. I also welcome respectful disagreement with my own ideas.
I believe in intellectual property rights, providing links, citing sources, and crediting inspiration where appropriate.
I disclose my material relationships, policies and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked.
When collaborating with marketers and PR professionals, I handle myself professionally and abide by basic journalistic standards.
I always present my honest opinions to the best of my ability.
I own my words. Even if I occasionally have to eat them.

BlogWithIntegrity.com

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  • Yos

    I agree … well done (I mean, the writing, not the food…)

  • Chris in South Korea

    Dan, your thoughts are more powerful than you realize. Being one of the biggest K-bloggers (e.g. most well-known, mentioned in many outside publications, etc.) makes you an important figure – doubly so considering your English posts are reaching the people the Korean government appears to desire reaching.

    Past misgivings notwithstanding, a blogger is a journalist – especially when they cite facts. Unless one's posts are purely opinion or thoughts, a blogger is necessarily a journalist. Whether paid or not, educated or not, those posts or words can be just as powerful.

    Where ethics and integrity are concerned, perception is often key. It's the same element that makes authenticity less important than how a restaurant actually is. People's perceptions of 'food blogs' (which I couldn't name more than a handful of, for the record) are shaped by who / what they read; as one of the biggest ones there is some responsibility there. I believe you understand that responsibility and actively work to improve things, and applaud you accordingly.

  • Timothy

    Big corporations have no trouble adopting and adapting…look at the big pizza companies as an example. Each country has its own formulation for sauce. Coke is another example. After new Coke came on the scene, we would prefer the product that was made in Mexico (lived in SoCal at the time).

    As one who does this for a living, I face this all the time. Over a decade ago, we put "Pad Thai" (Phat Thai or ผัดไทย) on one of our menus, using such horrid adaptations as linguini instead of rice noodles, and other changes. Years later it remains a top seller in the outlet. We do get 1 or 2 negative comments per month, but there are 800 customers a month who buy it, and might not appreciate "authentic" Pad Thai.

    Food is intensely personal. Everyone is an expert. The trick is to find the sweet spot where many people agree and like a product enough to leave their house, open their wallet and spend their hard earned money.

  • Timothy

    Big corporations have no trouble adopting and adapting…look at the big pizza companies as an example. Each country has its own formulation for sauce. Coke is another example. After new Coke came on the scene, we would prefer the product that was made in Mexico (lived in SoCal at the time).

    As one who does this for a living, I face this all the time. Over a decade ago, we put "Pad Thai" (Phat Thai or ผัดไทย) on one of our menus, using such horrid adaptations as linguini instead of rice noodles, and other changes. Years later it remains a top seller in the outlet. We do get 1 or 2 negative comments per month, but there are 800 customers a month who buy it, and might not appreciate "authentic" Pad Thai.

    Food is intensely personal. Everyone is an expert. The trick is to find the sweet spot where many people agree and like a product enough to leave their house, open their wallet and spend their hard earned money.

  • Jin

    Dan, I wouldn't worry too much about what other people say or think about your blog. People who are obsessed with integrity and objectivity often show little of it themselves. I enjoy reading your reviews and comments. Keep up the good work. Fighting!

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